According to womenshealth.gov, the definition of infertility is not being able to get pregnant after one year of trying. (Six months if a woman is 35 or older.) The CDC states that about 10 percent of women in the United States have difficulty getting (or staying) pregnant.
Pregnancy, although a natural biological process, has many steps, and doesn’t always happen naturally. For conception occur, a woman must ovulate and the egg must travel into the fallopian tube. Along the way, a man’s sperm must fertilize the egg, and then the fertilized egg must implant itself in the wall of the uterus. If there is a problem with any of these steps, infertility can occur.
Female infertility is often caused by problems with ovulation; without ovulation, there are no eggs to be fertilized. Ovulation problems can be caused by hormonal imbalances, premature ovarian insufficiency, and PCOS.
Other causes of female infertility can be caused by structural problems in the reproductive system. This can include blocked fallopian tubes due to surgery, endometriosis, or pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, and other problems within the uterus.
There are many other possible reasons why a woman may have trouble conceiving. It is a good idea for any woman who is trying to get pregnant to talk to a doctor or schedule a preconception appointment first. Most experts suggest giving it a year, and then seeing their doctor if they are unable to conceive. Because a woman’s chances of conceiving decrease rapidly when she gets to her 30s, women 35 or older should see their doctor if they aren’t pregnant within six months.
15 Feeling Confused?
You’ve probably heard about women who conceive on accident or you know someone who got pregnant when they weren’t even trying. This can be super frustrating when you’ve been trying to conceive for awhile with no luck. Getting pregnant is supposed to be a very natural thing, but it isn’t always as easy as it seems like it should be. There are a lot of things that need to happen at just the right time, in the right order, for a woman to become pregnant. And a lot of women don’t even properly understand their own cycles, which can make timing and planning very tricky.
You’ll have much better luck conceiving if you understand how long your menstrual cycle is and when you ovulate.
It’s also important to understand sperm life. Sperm can live for three days in the cervix, so even if you don’t have sex on the day of ovulation, you could still get pregnant, if say, you have sex the day before you ovulate.
14 How Much? How Often?
Obviously, you need to have sex to get pregnant. But this can lead to a lot of questions: How much is enough? How often should we do it? Is there such a thing as too much sex? Worrying about getting the timing right and all those questions can suck some of the fun out of trying to get pregnant.
Experts usually recommend that couples should have sex consistently 2 or 3 times a week when they are trying to conceive, and every day when you know you are close to ovulating. If you’re not sure when you’re going to ovulate or if you have irregular periods, try using an ovulation predictor kit, which are available at drugstores. (You pee on a test strip and when you’re close to ovulating, it will get darker. When the test strip matches or is darker than the control strip, ovulation is near and it’s time to get busy!)
13 Problems With Ovulation
The most common cause of infertility in women is some sort of ovulatory disorder, basically meaning that, for some reason, ovulation fails to occur or occurs on an inconsistent basis. It is thought that between 20 to 40 percent of female infertility comes from irregular ovulation. Some women may never ovulate, while others may only ovulate once in awhile.
Ovulatory disorders are often caused by hormonal imbalances, excessive exercise, fluctuation in weight, and excessive stress. Any dramatic changes to diet and lifestyle could throw a woman’s ovulation cycle off.
Ovulation disorders are treatable. Typical treatments include medications that will induce ovulation, such as Clomid. Clomid can be taken in combination with insemination. If intercourse is timed properly, conception may occur after treatment, as long as there is no problem with male infertility. The male partner should undergo a semen analysis before the female begins using any fertility medications or treatments.
12 Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, is a very complex condition. PCOS is an ovulation disorder that originates in the ovary. There is a wide spectrum of symptoms, some of which don’t even seem to be related to each other. Some of these symptoms can include lack of ovulation, an abnormal menstrual cycle, excessive weight gain, acne, thinning hair, excessive facial hair, and infertility. It can be frustrating because many women don’t feel like they fit any or all of the symptoms, so they don’t think PCOS can be a possibility. And many patients who have PCOS go undiagnosed.
There is no cure for PCOS, but you the symptoms can be managed. Once diagnosed, you and your doctor will come up with a treatment plan based on your symptoms. Many women will need a combination of treatments, including medication and lifestyle changes to make sure they are at a healthy weight and that their hormones are in balance.
It is estimated that as any as three to five million women suffer from endometriosis. Endometriosis is a disease of the reproductive system in which cells from the endometrium, or lining of the uterus, grow where they’re not supposed to. Meaning outside of the uterus. This growth of cells can cause blocked tubes that could prevent an egg and sperm from meeting, or that could keep a fertilized egg from traveling down the fallopian tubes normally, leading to an ectopic pregnancy.
Symptoms of endometriosis can include heavy and painful periods, pain during intercourse, and cramping during menstruation. The only problem is that sometimes the severity of the disease doesn’t always match up with the symptoms a woman has. Some women might not really have much pain, or think the pain they experience is simply related to regular premenstrual symptoms – but they may suffer from infertility.
Endometriosis is diagnosed through laparoscopy, a surgical procedure that uses a lighted camera to check for cysts growing in the abdomen. If discovered, these cysts are removed during a laparoscopic procedure, and afterward, many women find success in trying to conceive.
10 Tube Trouble
Sometimes the cause of a woman’s infertility can be a mechanical issue, like blocked tubes. Even if a woman is ovulating perfectly and her partner’s sperm is just fine, if they don’t have place to meet up so that the egg can be fertilized, conception can’t happen. Another issue is having a pregnancy occur in the fallopian tubes, which can lead to its own termination or other medical complications.
The inability to get pregnant can also be due to adhesions in the female reproductive system. Sometimes these adhesions can exist without any symptoms at all. These adhesions can also be caused to by endometriosis, infections, or some sort of injury or trauma to the uterus. It’s also possible that past use of intrauterine devices to prevent pregnancy may lead to this condition.
The only way to have these issues fixed is to contact your doctor. Usually, there will be some sort of assessment involved to make sure that the tubes are open and that the uterus is okay.
9 Getting Older
Unfortunately, it’s true. A woman’s fertility begins to decline in her early 30s, and then even declines even more rapidly when she hits 35. (Your partner’s not off the hook, either; his sperm quality also declines with age.)
Women are born with all of their eggs, approximately one to two million. We lose them every month, in quality and quantity. By puberty, we only have about 300,000 left, and only about 300 of those will mature and be released through ovulation. By the time a woman reaches menopause, she won’t have any eggs left.
This process of losing eggs, just like aging itself, is irreversible. There’s nothing you can do about it; there’s no way for a woman to make more eggs. And even if an older woman still has some eggs remaining, due to her age, the quality of the egg will have deteriorated.
To keep your eggs in tip-top shape, you need to take good care of yourself. This means quitting smoking, losing weight, managing thyroid problems, and taking supplements like Vitamin D, probiotics, prenatal vitamins, and CoQ10, which can help maintain egg quality.
8 Low Progesterone
After ovulation, the egg follicle, now known as the corpus luteum, begins producing the hormone progesterone in order to support implantation and the beginning of pregnancy. Lack of sufficient progesterone during this phase of the menstrual cycle is called Luteal Phase Defect. It can lead to the development of an inadequate uterine lining, one that can’t support a growing pregnancy. Basically, after ovulation and before your period starts, the lining of your uterus gets thicker to prepare for a possible pregnancy. If you don’t get pregnant, you get your period. But if you have luteal phase defect, your lining won’t even grow properly, which can make it difficult to become (or remain) pregnant.
It’s hard to tell what the cause of LPD is, but it’s possible that women with other medical issues, such as thyroid problems or hormonal imbalances, may have abnormal luteal function.
Many physicians will prescribe progesterone supplements in the form of pills, vaginal suppositories, or injections. These fertility aids are thought to help thicken the uterine lining which will help the embryos attach and increase the chances of a successful implantation.
7 Watch Your Weight
A woman who is underweight or overweight may have trouble conceiving. A woman who is too thin and undernourished may not ovulate properly. On the other hand, being overweight may also impact your fertility. Even if you’re only a little bit overweight, it can decrease your chance of getting pregnant. The higher your BMI, the lower your chances of conceiving may get. Obesity, or having a BMI of 30 or more, can inhibit ovulation altogether. That’s why it’s important to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
Not only that, but extra weight can increase the risk of complications when you do get pregnant. Women who are obese are more likely to have gestational diabetes and are at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure or preeclampsia during pregnancy.
If you’re underweight and thinking about trying to conceive, see your doctor for a physical; and perhaps you can work together to come up with a healthy weight to add some extra pounds.
6 Are You Working Out Too Much?
It’s important to maintain a healthy weight, and for many of us, that means we have to carefully watch what we eat and make a commitment to hitting the gym. We know that exercise is good for us, but when it comes to getting pregnant, less might be more. A European study recently showed that women with a normal body weight who exercised vigorously for five or more hours a week took longer to get pregnant than those who only exercised moderately.
While you might be hooked on HIIT or Crossfit, it’s important to know that extreme exercise can contribute to your inability to get pregnant. If you reduce your body’s fat percentage, you could alter your menstrual cycle, making it hard to get pregnant.
This doesn’t mean that it’s cool to plop onto the couch and put your feet up until you finally get pregnant. Talk to your doctor about your fitness level and your current physical activities and exercise in moderation.
5 Stressed Out
For many women who are trying to conceive, getting pregnant is just about all they can think about… and worry about. If you mention to anyone that you’re trying to conceive, someone is likely to tell you, “Just relax! It will happen when it’s supposed to!” But this isn’t exactly very calming or reassuring advice if you’ve been trying to conceive for awhile and are beginning to wonder if there’s a problem.
And stressing too much can actually cause the problem. Stress can play a role in suppressing the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, which in turn control the thyroid, adrenal glands, and ovaries. This will lead to screwed-up periods… and possibly trouble getting pregnant.
If you’re feeling stressed, be sure to tell your partner about how you’re feeling. Find a TTC message board and share your concerns anonymously. Talking together, and confiding in someone, is a great way to reduce stress.
Don’t forget to eat well, stay hydrated, get plenty of fresh air and exercise, and plenty of rest!
4 Stop Smoking, Quit Drinking
Smoking is bad for you. You already know that, right? But if you’re trying to conceive, it can complicate things by extending the length of time it takes for a couple to conceive. Long-time female smokers can have irregular ovulation and menstrual cycles, which makes it harder to predict the best time of the month to try to conceive. Smoking is also thought to prematurely age your ovaries and eggs. (Smoking cigarettes and marijuana is bad for the guys, too; it can lower sperm count and motility.)
Once you quit taking birth control, it’s also a good idea to quit drinking. Many women assume that it’s okay to keep drinking while you’re still trying to conceive, but many women don’t realize that they’re pregnant until they’re 4 to 6 weeks along. According to the CDC, alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman even knows that she’s pregnant.
3 Cut Out the Caffeine
Why does everything that’s good end up being bad for you? While you might rely on your morning cup of joe (and you’re lunchtime iced tea, and your afternoon soda and snack…) to keep you up and running, all this caffeine could actually be slowing down your chances at conceiving.
A European study of 3,187 women who were trying to conceive reported that those consuming over 500 mg a day (the equivalent of two tall brewed Starbucks coffees) took about 11% longer to achieve their first pregnancy.
And even if you do manage to get pregnant, another study by the National Institute of Health found that consuming two or more coffee beverages a day (by both male and female partners) could result in a higher chance of miscarriage once pregnancy is finally achieved.)
So what can you do? Cut down on your coffee intake, and urge your partner to do the same. You don’t have to quit caffeine entirely. Yet another study showed that consuming less than 300 mg of caffeine a day had no effect on fertility. But to play it safe, you might want to limit yourself to one cup of coffee a day.
2 Lose The Lube (Or Try a New One)
It might seem like an obvious fix for when you’re not really feeling the “having-sex-just-because-I’m-ovulating” thing. But the lube you use to get things going might actually slow things down… on your partner’s end.
There are conflicting studies, but it’s thought that some popular lubes like Astroglide and KY significantly decreased sperm motility, making it harder for sperm to get where they’re going quickly and efficiently. The same thing goes for saliva.
But if you really need help in the lube department, there’s good news. There is actually lube on the market made specifically for conception, which means they’re sperm-friendly. Some of these lubes mimic the pH and consistency of fertile cervical mucus, allowing sperm to swim freely and make their way to your eggs.
Many of these lubes also come with applicators that help you place it near your cervix where it works best. Some even come in kits that include ovulation predictor tests and pregnancy tests.
1 Hidden Dangers
Without even realizing it, we are exposed to many harmful chemicals throughout the day. Eating the wrong foods, eating canned foods, grabbing the grocery store receipt, drinking from a plastic water bottle… Things that you don’t think are particularly bad for you can actually be pretty dangerous and can negatively affect your hormones... and your hormones pretty much affect everything when it comes to trying to get pregnant.
Many things that you come into contact with everyday contain the estrogen-mimicking chemical Bisphenol A, known as BPA. The levels of BPA in your system can fluctuate depending on your exposure, so try to avoid the chemical by swapping to BPA-free containers and water bottles.
Other hormone-altering chemicals and pollutants known as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) that linger in the body can be found animal fat. To limit your exposure to PCBs, be sure to cut away all the fat from the meat or fish you are preparing, or even consider limiting the amount of meat you eat overall.